Hello, everyone! Today’s review is for Storm Bunny Studios’ Mists of Akuma campaign setting. Funded in May of 2016, the setting PDF shipped in November and print copies in January of 2017.
Mists of Akuma is, in both print and PDF, a black and white supplement, which occasionally makes its illustrations difficult to see with its dark page motif. The various contributing artists have a wide range of styles from a glossy anime style to Ukiyo-e to matte painted landscapes. These styles together wouldn’t match well, but moments of dissonance are well-arranged so that the reader doesn’t see any artistic clash on any two-page spread in the book.
Edit(3/1/2018): Since this review was written, the available PDF copies of Mists of Akuma are now in color, making their art much easier to see and adding a lot of nuance to character art.
The book introduces new creatures with stat blocks where they become relevant. While reading, it’s important to note that certain noteworthy NPCs and faction members will often use stats which are variants of a nearby base creature, conserving page count and adding much more variety to an already-wide range of NPC stat blocks.
One mild frustration while reading was that certain page number references were not quite right – either some pages shifted around in layout or some additional content was squeezed in after the fact, but for instance, references to the Misted condition list it on page 13 rather than 15. Fortunately, the changes made after the page numbers were listed were not significant structural ones, so page references are roughly in the same neighborhood of the actual content to which they are referring.
Edit(3/1/2018): Mike Myler has let me know that he has applied errata to the current version of the PDF regarding these page number references.
One of the crucial changes for Mists of Akuma from default Fifth Edition rules is the introduction of two new attributes – Dignity and Haitoku, which thematically represent the dangers of the eponymous Mists transforming those who breathe them into monstrous adeddo-oni. Dignity represents how a character carries themselves, using the ability to navigate social or etiquette pitfalls. Haitoku, on the other hand, expresses a character’s willingness to do whatever it takes to meet their own goals. The two ability scores begin at 10(adjusted by a character’s background and storyteller discretion) and can be adjusted either by normal ability score adjustments or through gameplay. The two attributes are directly opposed to each other, with effects which raise Haitoku typically lowering Dignity and vice-versa. For creatures whose stat blocks do not feature these abilities, the setting recommends instead using Charisma for Dignity and Wisdom for Haitoku.
Haitoku, in particular, has a more potent mechanical impact – a character receives ongoing “Misted” effects based on their Haitoku modifier, ranging from cosmetic(if disquieting) effects like ghostly echoes to potent physical mutations or, ultimately, death and a transformation into an adeddo-oni. During gameplay, I found it helpful to print a physical copy of the table of Misted effects for quick reference.
Places to See, Things to Do
Chapters 4 through 6 of the book examine in greater detail the capital cities of three prefectures – Sanbaoshi, Kyofu, and Nagabuki – which each rely on different methods to respond to the dangers of the Mists, and contain detailed information about the districts and neighborhoods within the cities as well as distinguishing cultural quirks such as Kyofu’s Destruction Festivals, or the commonplace lung tattoos in Nagabuki. These three chapters are some of the most interesting in the book, and I definitely would have loved to see more geographical details in these chapters’ style.
In addition to 8 new character backgrounds specific to Soburin, the book offers suggestive hooks for the standard character backgrounds, including their influence on starting Haitoku and Dignity scores and potential integration into the campaign setting.
Mists of Akuma also provides subclass options for most of the standard classes, quickly summarized in order of appearance in the book:
- The Bushibot(Fighter archetype) incorporates steam-powered augmetics, taking on more technological aspects without the typical Haitoku score increments. Overall, the archetype isn’t exactly the most exciting, but it lets you experiment with the expanded equipment list(and considering the Fighter archetypes include the Champion, simplicity isn’t necessarily a negative).
- The Circle of Blight (Druid circle) worships the dark powers who have subverted the natural cycle of seasons. This Druid circle adds necromantic spells to the regular Druid’s spell list and offers protection from the Mists of Akuma, as well as resistance(and later immunity) to a damage type based on the seasons. Since seasons are a factor in my home games, I particularly found the Circle of Blight and Wu-jen to be intriguing subclasses.
- The Circle of Shifting ends a Druid’s progression in spells, instead focusing on combating the Mists of Akuma through the unlimited usage of Wild Shape, and later subclass features keying off of temporary transformations and martial ability, much like my own Druid Subclass.
- The Clockwork Adept(Wizard School) uses mechanical engineering skills coupled with arcane practices, a combination which is represented in several third-party supplements, so it can be fascinating to compare the Clockwork Adept to its counterpart in Kobold Press’s Clockwork Magic or Wizards of the Coast’s Unearthed Arcana Artificer. When preparing spells, the Clockwork Adept prepares spells in a way which makes them immune to magical attempts at disrupting them(such as counterspell or dispel magic). Depending on the types of enemies the Clockwork Adept faces(casters versus non-casters), this feature could weigh heavily on the outcome of a fight or have almost no bearing).
- The College of the Gun Priest(Bard College) emphasizes the mastery of firearms and Clerics’ spells. The bard college treats a vested gun as an arcane focus and holy symbol for casting purposes and can enchant their vested gun with a day-long ritual and expending a decent amount of gold.
- The Detective(Rogue archetype) develops investigative abilities to immerse themselves in the politics of the clans of Soburin. They can use Investigation points to increase the results of skill checks(and later attack rolls, armor class and saving throws). Being able to increase an attack roll with a well-timed d8 or d10 can profoundly affect the Detective’s ability to land a hit with a Sneak Attack and turn the tide in a battle.
- The Herbalist(Rogue Archetype) learns to cast a variety of spells at touch range through the use of tinctures. Although most of the spells on the Herbalist’s spell list are buffs, the interaction of caster abilities with normal Rogue features functions in a much more codified way than the Arcane Trickster, the only other caster archetype for a Rogue.
- The Ju-Wai Shu Bloodline (Sorcerer Origin) uses a special calligraphy staff(an enchanted spear) to cast spells, otherwise suffering damage for casting any spell with a somatic component. At higher levels, Sorcerers with this bloodline can expend Sorcery points to cast a spell using a higher-level spell slot and ultimately can double their proficiency bonus for calculating spell save DC’s. If these features were introduced earlier in the subclass progression, they might be cause for concern, but since they occur at 14th and 18th level, when every player character is supposed to be obscenely awesome anyhow, the feature feels like an appropriate capstone.
- The Kami Domain (Cleric Domain) allows a Cleric to befriend a kami spirit, a ghostly version of the Find Familiar spell. As the Cleric levels up, the kami companion gains new features such as the ability to grant limited blindsight and ultimately to transform into another creature emulating the True Polymorph spell.
- The Mage(Wizard school) transcribes spells into scrolls of calligraphy with an identifiable mark. The subclass adds a material component to all spells – a scroll costing 1 gp times the spell’s level. Later on, you can cast using Lustrous Calligraphy scrolls for double the price, which doubles your proficiency bonus for spell attacks or to determine spell save DCs. As a mid-level feature, this can dramatically upset otherwise-normal combat, even with its limits.
- The Martial Artist(Monastic Tradition) gains martial arts feats in place of path features. Honestly, this subclass feels a little redundant since it relies on another group of rules elements to represent monks as martial artists, which they.. already kind of are.
- The Ninja(Rogue archetype) uses rapid shuriken and kunai attacks to deal damage. The Ninja becomes the only Rogue archetype to make multiple attacks per round, so it’s important for Storytellers to note that Sneak Attack damage only applies once per round.
- The Path of the Faded(Barbarian Path) gains a damaging necrotic aura and levels of the Misted condition as they rage, eventually using their Haitoku score in place of any other attribute of their choosing while raging. Because the Path takes on so many levels of the Misted condition, it’s important to remember that any beyond the 7th provide levels of exhaustion, mitigating what can be very potent additional damage.
- The Priest(Monastic Tradition) gains the ability to cast spells as a Half-Caster using the Druid spell list. Their truly unique ability, though, is gaining Advantage on Concentration saves by 11th level, making them a solid blend of Martial and Spellcaster features.
- The Samurai(Paladin Oath) pledge themselves to the Bushido, wielding an Ancestral Weapon, which can be enhanced much like the Gun Priest’s Vested Gun. Additionally, the Samurai gains a potent 1d8 times Proficiency Bonus first-strike Iajutsu once per short rest, and ultimately the ability to honorably challenge a single foe to a duel, becoming immune to all attacks other than their Challenged opponent.
- The Shinobibot(Rogue Archetype), like the Bushibot, obtains augmetics without increasing their Haitoku score. When examining augmetics for the subclass’s options, a player should be careful to make sure that they’re compatible with base Rogue features such as Sneak Attack.
- The Tattooed Monk(Monastic Tradition) is a flavorful Monk subclass who adorn themselves with magical tattoos. They can expend Ki Points to cast a limited number of spells on themselves, absorb damage, or hypnotize foes.
- The Tsukumogami Hunter(Ranger Path) masters the trade of defending people from spirit-animated objects, which continue to increase in number. Ironically, to do so, the subclass receives help from a sensei whose spirit inhabits a personal object, using a modified Homonculus stat block. Depending on your alignment, your sensei develops new abilities to assist you(with a focus on damage for evil alignment and a focus on buffs for good alignment).
- The Wu-jen(Warlock Pact) makes deals with the darker powers who have subjugated the natural order of seasons(the same entities which grant the Circle of Blight Druid its powers). The Wu-jen can choose to take a specific patron or to cycle their patron as the seasons change. Either way, a Wu-jen’s Eldritch Blast becomes a shorter-range attack and deals 1d12 of a particular type of damage rather than force, and at later levels, their attacks can transport a target through an entity’s domain for additional damage.
My primary concern about these subclasses is how few of them use either of the new Ability Scores, other than the Path of the Faded Barbarian, the few Martial Artist Monk’s feats which require certain Dignity scores, and the Augmetic Fighter and Rogue subclasses ignoring the Haitoku penalties for taking Augmetics. I would’ve liked to see some amount of mechanical influence from Dignity, such as some unique abilities for the Samurai.
Mists of Akuma has a whopping 15 races, which makes for an incredibly crowded world. Notably, though, Soburin is not inhabited by members of any of the PHB races(unless as a result of magical intervention or the Mists of Akuma), instead offering its own entries for humans alongside the unique races like the Bakemono(goblins transformed from insect swarms), Umibo(liquid humanoids held together with psionic power), Kappa, and Necroji(skeletal humanoids enhanced and animated by a potent blend of science and magic).
The Feats in Mists of Akuma are divided into a block of general feats and Martial Arts feats. The general feats are powerful story elements, a single one of which can easily define an adventurer’s role in a group. However, a lot of feats in the setting have high entry costs compared to the PHB, so if you haven’t built a character around one of these higher-prerequisite feats, you likely won’t ever qualify for it.
The Martial Arts stance feats provide ongoing effects while you are using unarmed strikes, shortswords or simple weapons, and have both passive and active effects, such as dealing extra damage, moving a target, or emulating a cantrip with martial arts. Most of these stance feats require a minimum Haitoku score along with another ability score, but some need other abilities. Almost all of these Martial Arts stances require at least two attributes, though, so a player looking to utilize a specific feat should be wary of their character’s build.
Mists of Akuma offers several categories of gear, reflecting the clash of tradition and technology of the Kengen Occupation. In the broadest strokes, the Eastern Armor and Weapons sections offer mid-range equipment compared to that in the PHB, as well as some new, more novel equipment such as the Any-Tool, whose damage type can be converted as a bonus action, the Hooked Sword, which grants a bonus to attempts to disarm an opponent, and the Dagger Fan, which deals only 1 damage as a weapon but increases a wielder’s AC.
The Alchemical Items section details different types of gunpowders, as well as addictive Black Smoke(which grants a decent amount of temporary HP but can deal levels of exhaustion as withdrawal symptoms), smoke bombs, and Shiranto Sap, which functions as caulk for sealing doors and windows from the Mists of Akuma as well as inhibiting an enemy’s movement.
The Steampunk Equipment section offers three different firearms, as well as specialty explosive ammunition which deals significant damage at the cost of disadvantage to an attack roll, grappling hook launchers, and air filtering masks and bodysuits. The section also includes airborne vehicles and parachutes.
The Augmetics section contains 19 different prostheses, including several which are either exclusive to particular races or unavailable to some(usually Necroji and Steametics in particular). Each Augmetic either adds 1 or 1d4 to its wearer’s Haitoku score(unless you’ve received it through Bushibot or Shinobibot subclass features as mentioned earlier). Augmetics are comparable to magic items in most regards, except that they also specify a hit point count for specifically targeted attacks.
Mists of Akuma is a unique and flavorful setting – apocalyptic magic and rich history of internal intrigue and foreign powers all blend into a world which has clearly seen better days. Thematically, tradition and culture clash with technology, with the specter of deadly phenomena looming over all of Soburin to create a grim world. If you’re looking for a setting which has strong ties to real-life history or something different from existing campaign settings, Mists of Akuma is a must-have, offering more utility for Storytellers than Book of the Righteous but not quite the same flexibility of Revenge of the Horde. At $19.99 for PDF and $29.99(plus shipping) for a printed hardcover, you’re getting a more-than-reasonable amount of content in player options, setting detail, and creature statistics. However, I’d recommend the PDF form instead of printed, since DrivethruRPG’s printings lost a lot of the art detail due to the light-on-dark page format. For Players, it’s not quite a must-have, as the subclasses and races are thematically tied to the setting, but the book is definitely (from a player perspective) more useful than Revenge of the Horde, even if it may not have the general flexibility of Deep Magic: Clockwork Magic. You can purchase Mists of Akuma through DriveThruRPG.
Edit(3/1/2018): As stated before, since this review was written, the available PDF copies of Mists of Akuma are now in color, making their art much easier to see, and in the near future, the print version will also be available in color, so ultimately I would recommend the print version over PDF should you have space on your bookshelf.
Reviewer’s Note: Mike Myler generously provided me a copy of the Mists of Akuma campaign setting and the Scourge of Robai-Shita Temple adventure for this review.
2 Comments Add yours
!! Awesome review sir! I’m *stoked* you are digging Mists of Akuma. It’s a tough book to wrangle–I’ll definitely check page number references for the errata and address the print to make sure the image aren’t too dark (they ought to be dark but not illegibly so, and it’s been a challenge to get the file tweaked just right to reliably do that en masse). There will soon be more information available on Sanbaoshi though so keep an eye out next month for the Imperial Matchmaker mega-adventure Kickstarter! For classes the only thing to pick out is the Samurai paladin archetype; I knew that WotC was (eventually) going to release a samurai, and I was reasonably sure it would be a fighter that did stuff with honor so I tried to design something to complement it (so you could do things like this: http://bit.ly/2o7LQ2L). It was heartening to see you dig into the equipment chapter (well the whole review is heartening, but that bit in particular I’m fond of).
Thank you again for checking out Mists of Akuma–we need to get you an advanced copy of Book of Exalted Darkness next! 😀
It’s been a fun read – thank you for sending it my way! It’s a delicate line to walk regarding contrast with the book, especially since a dark layout is the most thematically appropriate and helps to distinguish the supplement from any of WotC’s.
Speaking of which, I did check out the Xanathar’s Guide Samurai while doing the review as well, and I think you would’ve been safe to try and occupy a little more of that conceptual space, especially since you’d already introduced additional ability score mechanics. Considering that Mists of Akuma came out almost a year before Xanathar’s Guide to Everything(and I didn’t recall when the Samurai was around for Unearthed Arcana), I tried not to draw any specific comparisons. Kudos for allowing the two to coexist!
The equipment chapter was one which I found important to address specifically – While the spells section was excellent as well, I didn’t think there was much to say on the subject. On the other hand, your equipment chapter manages to subtly remind the reader about the cultural clash in the setting while still being informative, and someone who wasn’t aware of Soburin’s history could easily intuit from that chapter alone history of the stigmas associated with Ceramian and Ropaeo technologies.
I’d love to take a crack at Book of Exalted Darkness; just let me know when it’s ready for review!